Author Archives: jsushe01

My First Day at Speed

By John Usher, Associate Dean

Driving into work this morning I saw all the students moving their stuff into the dorms. Classes start in a few days. I still remember my first day at Speed School. I would use the word exciterrified to describe it. I had no idea what to expect. I walked into my Chem class in the big auditorium in Ernst Hall and looked around and saw about 100 guys and 5 girls. That ratio was completely unexpected, and after having spent 4 years at Trinity High School, I started to seriously question my engineering career choice. Then, the professor (who shall remain nameless) walked in and his first words were “Look to your left and look to your right, one of these people will be gone in 3 weeks.” Wow…nice welcome. Great to be here, I thought. Obviously I made it through ok, but still it was eye-opening.

Boy how times have changed. That old “weed them out” mentality is long since gone. Speed School is ALL about retaining students and helping them earn an engineering degree. We have a great set of dedicated academic advisors that work with their assigned students through their entire career here at Speed. We have supplemental Calculus instruction sections, student help sessions, tutors, a Living/Learning Community, tablet PC initiative, a new Director for Student Success (Heidi Neal), UofL Reach, a Writing Center, and much more.

As I look back now, I realize how far we have come and how much better it is be a Speed student these now. Maybe that’s why our enrollment numbers are through the roof as more and more young people are deciding that engineering can lead them to a great lifetime career.

Best of luck to the incoming class!


Speed Business Center to Open July 1

On July 1, 2014 Speed School will open its new business center. SpeedBC will consolidate the school’s unit business managers with the research support group (RASS) into one office to handle finance, accounting, payroll, hiring, procurement, grants management, and a wide array of related business services. This strategic initiative aims to:

  1. Support the vision and strategic goals of the school;
  2. Significantly improve the quality and timeliness of business processes;
  3. Adhere to best practices of the profession;
  4. Provide accountability to those served;
  5. Transition to the return of a significant share of research infrastructure funding to the departments.
  6. Meet the university mandate to improve financial controls

The center will be led by Ms. Laura Newton, and will be housed on the second floor of the Vogt Building. It will also serve as a pilot study for UofL to examine how it might implement similar shared service centers across the university, as part of its 21st Century Initiative.

We will plan to host an Open House event sometime soon after the July 1 date, so everyone can stop by and see the new center.

Upward Trajectory

by John S. Usher, Associate Dean

UofL J.B. Speed School of Engineering 2020 Strategic Plan

UofL J.B. Speed School of Engineering 2020 Strategic Plan

President James Ramsey proudly talks often about the University of Louisville, and its “upward trajectory”. Here at Speed School, we have a large number of initiatives underway that will help add some energy to keep that trajectory pointed in the right direction. We are working diligently on a plan to initiate the Institute for Product Realization and Innovation in the 39-acre Belknap Research Park that is being developed right behind Speed School. Look for a major announcement on that plan coming soon. Our Department of Engineering Fundamentals is establishing a Center for Teaching and Learning Engineering that will help us research and apply new approaches for delivering our courses. We are rolling out a new website in the next few weeks. We have implemented a new system called Digital Measures for recording and measuring faculty productivity. We have expanded our K-12 outreach programs and are even offering a summer camp in our fantastic cleanroom where students will actually make their own semiconductors. Our development office is busy with a large fundraising effort to finance a multi-million dollar renovation of the nearly 80-year old JB Speed Building. The architect’s plans reveal some exciting new features including a large glass atrium on the back of the building, a central staircase added to an open lobby, new student collaborative areas, space for new business operations, a Math Emporium and video production area, a rooftop garden, and a brick plaza behind the building. The plaza will change the back side of Speed School by replacing the existing parking lot with a beautiful space for students to gather, and relax and interact. The plaza will become the center of the Speed Campus and serve as an effective connection between JBS, Duthie, Sacket and WS.

We have so much going on that sometimes it’s hard to keep track of it all. For a more formal look at our plans, follow this link to see our strategic plan!

Springs Have Potential Energy

By John Usher

As we slog our way through one of the coldest winters in many years, it is important to realize that Spring is really just around the corner. While this semester just got started, we’ll be in finals week before you know it. Excuse the engineering play on words, but we all know that Springs can contain a lot of potential energy. If you don’t believe me, watch a loaded garage door spring unwind (from a safe distance please) and you’ll see what I mean. The point is that Spring is a time when the weather warms, and our graduates emerge with an unlimited amount of potential energy. I always look forward to this time of year when we can finally see the true fruits of our academic labor. Students will no doubt be stressed getting that senior design project done, those last exams completed and the their grades posted before May Commencement. I would urge them to keep working hard, moving forward with a positive attitude, and embracing the new challenges that lie ahead. I can say the same for our faculty and staff who will be part of many changes, (including new curricula, building renovations, new faculty hires, process improvements, and more). All of these changes are loading the spring, so to speak, and creating a great deal of potential energy here at Speed School.

Building a Wall – One Brick at a Time

by John Usher, Associate Dean

It just seems like the end of the year comes so fast.  I think the problem I have with it, is that it forces me to take stock of what was accomplished during the year, and I always feel that I could have done more. I’m sure lots of people feel the same way.  However, when I look back over 2013, I can see lots of great things that got done collectively at UofL and Speed, including some outstanding faculty hires, a new strategic plan, great success for our student teams in a variety of national competitions, numerous faculty awards, fantastic research results, a record number of top-notch students enrolled, and even national championship in basketball and a Sugar Bowl victory. Sometimes however, while changes are happening they are hard to detect in the chaos of the daily grind. It is only after some time passes that you can see and appreciate the true effect.  A lesson I always convey to students in my Quality Control class, is that improving a really complex system can often be best done by making slow and steady changes, like building a brick wall, one brick at a time.  I’m sure at the start, the brick layers feel overwhelmed with the amount of bricks to be laid.  But after some time and a lot of hard work, they can step back and be extremely proud of the wall that they built.  In fact, in the book Working, by Studs Terkel, bricklayers and stone masons are reported to be among the most satisfied workers in America, because they (and others) can see and admire the results of their work for years.  We all need to take that lesson to heart, as we try to make Speed School a better place to educate students.  So as 2013 closes, all of us here at Speed need to, step back, take a breath, admire the wall we have built so far, and then get back to work in 2014 laying more bricks. 

Hey Girls? Where are you?

By John S. Usher, Associate Dean

Where are all the girls in engineering?  As I look at the recent numbers here at Speed School, I wonder.  Right now, our undergraduate enrollment is at 19.4% female, which is actually up from 15.5% in 2010.   Still that number seems far too low to me.  I’m no expert on the subject, but my opinion is that girls do not get positive messages growing up about engineering as a potential profession.  One might argue that this is caused by cultural attitudes among parents.   Girls can’t do math.  That’s completely ridiculous. The females in my classes here do just as well with complex math as their male counterparts.  Girls need to choose a profession that is less demanding and more conducive to rearing a family in the future.  Again, I would point to many of our female graduates who have found engineering to be an excellent profession that can be enriching and flexible for women who choose to build a solid family life.  I would argue that engineering is a great degree choice,  that sets graduates up for a wide variety of professions, including being a great mom.  Girls are more interested in professions that allow them to show compassion and concern for improving the human condition.  This may be true and may be why girls tend to choose degrees in fields such as nursing, teaching, and social work.  But I don’t buy the logic, because it is through engineering that girls can often have a profound impact on improving quality of life for others, for example, by designing more efficient hospitals and health care facilities, creating new medical devices that save lives, building smarter power grids that reduce greenhouse gasses, building improved water systems that protect the environment, and so on.

In fact, while parents and society play an important role in messaging to our female youth, it ultimately is the fault of the engineering profession who has not delivered the message in clear and compelling ways. We need to improve our story and re-double our efforts to reach girls at younger ages.  Waiting until high school to try to convince a young woman to study calculus and physics, is way too late.   We need to show girls that engineering wants them and needs them to create a better world in the future.

Check out a company who is trying to change the perception.

and check out their Rube Goldberg video.

For more on the opportunities for girls (and boys) to learn about engineering, check out the Speed School outreach programs!

Women can’t do math? That’s an excuse, not a fact.

Engineers and Scientists

By: John S. Usher, Associate Dean

My last blog post basically laid out the idea that engineers play a role in the design of just about every man-made object that we see in our daily lives.  I often hear people say that engineers “apply science”, that is, take the findings from scientists like biologists, geologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and more, and apply those scientific concepts to solve problems.  In some cases that is true.  However, I would argue that it much more commonly goes the other way around.  Engineers usually design working systems long before the science is ever understood.

Take for example the steam engine, arguably one of the greatest inventions of all time, and the one which dramatically lead to the Industrial Revolution in the United States.   In 1712 the first commercially successful steam engine was developed by Thomas Newcomen.  The machine operated,  but was crude and very little of the input energy was converted to actual work, with as much as 80% wasted as heat.   Much later in the century, James Watt, (yes, that “watt” as in a 60-watt light bulb) worked as instrument maker at the University of Glasgow.  He was shown a small model of the Newcomen “atmospheric  engine”.  Watt studied it and in 1765 realized it could be greatly improved by introducing an external condenser.  Watt became famous for his steam engine designs as they became the backbone upon which the American mass production was built.

Yet, the actual science underlying the steam engine, namely “thermodynamics” was virtually non-existent in the late 1700’s.   Sadi Carnot, the so called Father of Thermodynamics, published Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire in 1824, nearly a half century after Watt’s findings were well known.  The first and second laws of thermodynamics were not known until the late 1850s, based on the works of William Rankine, Rudolf Clausius, and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin).  Rankine’s thermodynamic textbook, the first of its kind, was not written until 1859, nearly 100 years after steam engines were commonplace.

Now, I will admit, this is but one example of science trailing engineering, but we can see similar results in many other fields such as electro-magnetism, computer science, chemistry, medicine and more.  Look no further than the work of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and their success with building and selling complex computers while the field of computer science was still forming.  Again,  we see the engineer “tinkerer” in the garage making an invention work, to improve the quality of life for someone,  without the benefit of well-formed scientific principles to help guide the design process.

Fortunately, we are now seeing the lines between science and engineering blur significantly, especially on the cutting edges of additive manufacturing, nanotechnology, genetics and bioinformatics, data analytics and cyber enable discovery.   Scientists and engineers now work side by side to unlock the mysteries of mother nature and find ways to apply them to our new technological world.   I am enthusiastic and excited about the science and engineering professions and the roles they will play in solving some of the world’s most challenging problems, including, disease, poverty, terrorism, energy, sustainability, and more.

Thanks for reading!  If you want to learn more about becoming an engineer, check out our website at